Stephen L. Caldwell, a member of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee. down-played the threat of international radical Islamic terrorism on the cruise industry in an article for Maritime Executive entitled Tightening the Security Envelope - Despite all the hoopla about terrorist threats and onboard crime, cruise ships are among the safest places on earth. He suggests that talk of terrorism is "much ado" about nothing. I posted Mr.Caldwell's article on our Facebook page with the comment that "if the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security is listening to this committee on international maritime security matters, passengers are sitting ducks."
My view is that Mr. Caldwell's naive article might as well have been written by the Cruise Line International Association for PR purposes. It is dangerously irresponsible to crew members and cruise passengers alike. I have expressed my feelings here about the threat of ISIS on cruise shipping many times before, including How the Next Jihadist Terror Attack Against Cruise Passengers Will Happen.
Fortunately, other knowledgeable experts have provided a more realistic view of ISIS's motivations. Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer, wrote an article which was published today, Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein is hardly an arm chair quarterback; he previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).
He suggests that it is not if, but when will ISIS and "other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?" Citing the many examples of attacks ashore, Captain Hein suggests that an ISIS attack on an underway cruise ship is real. Like assaulting a "large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel," the "narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help."
He estimates that the chance that ISIS will attack "blue water objectives out of sight of land" is still remote as long as navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. However, coastal attacks like that committed by ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda against the USS Cole (attack diagram above) remain more probable. And he specifically cites the terrorist attacks last March at the Bardo museum in Tunis, when cruise passengers from a Costa and MSC cruise ship were killed. He also cites a shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August of last year.
Photo Credit: USS Cole diagram - Reuters; Video credit: U.K.'s Mirror
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April 24 2016: "Special forces guard cruise terror targets: Commandos trained to take out IS suicide boats" via UK's Daily Star.